Thursday, September 27, 2007

Environmental Stewardship

"Even though the local effects of global climate change are extremely hard to forecast, we can be sure that many of the world's poorest places are at risk of being overwhelmed by climate shocks coming from outside their borders. Rising ocean levels associated with long-term warming will likely inundate impoverished regions such as Bengladesh and small island economies. Shifting patterns of rainfall, such as the declines in precipitation evident in Africa's Sahel and those associated with long-term warming in the Indian Ocean, are likely to be experienced elsewhere. An increasing frequency and intensity of El Niño climate cycles could become an important disturbance for hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Changes in ocean chemistry associated with rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could poison the coral reefs, with attendant disastrous effects on coastal ecosystems and coastal economies.
The poorest of the poor are mostly innocent victims in this drama. The major cause of long-term climate change, fossil fuel combustion, is disproportionately the result of rich-country actions. Any responsible global approach to poverty reduction should include much greater attention to three things. First, the rich countries themselves, and particularly the United States, will have to live up to their longstanding commitment under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to the «stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.» Second, the rich countries will have to give added financial assistance to the poor countries to enable them to respond effectively to, or at least to cope with, the changes ahead. Third, as I noted earlier, the rich countries will have to invest more in climate science to gain a clearer understanding of how the changes already under way are likely to affect the world's poorest people, as well as the rest of us."

(Jeffrey Sachs, "The end of poverty, economic possibilities for our time", chapter "A global compact to end poverty")

That's why I am enraged when I hear people like Claude Allègre, former french minister of research, saying that the changes due to global warming are not anything to worry about, that we will have no problem copping with, that it may be bad for the Africans but it will be good for the Eskimos. Well, how many Eskimos are there compared to Africans, Asians, latin Americans ? Even if countries lying in temperate areas will have no problems copping with the changes, we will see how they cope with massive migrations of people from the parts of the world that will become intolerable to live in. I don't think DNA or french litteracy tests will hold them out for long...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

About drug patents

"One of our key points was that drug treatment for the poor would actually cost the donor world much less than appeared to be the case from drug prices in the rich countries. Under the patent system, antiretroviral medicines are priced far above their actual cost of production. The companies can price in this manner because the patent gives them a temporary monopoly. The economic theory is that the profits that result from high patent-protected prices are the incentive for the companies to engage in research and development in the first place. Still, with the actual production costs of an antiretroviral regimen at $500 per year or less (compared with U.S. market prices of around $10,000 per year), it would be possible to provide access to the poor with donor help, assuming that drug companies would supply the low-income markets at production cost rather than monopoly prices. This turned out to be the case. The patent holders agreed to cut their prices in the low-income markets, while various generic drug manufacturers provided additional competition by offering low-priced competitor drugs in countries where patents did not apply or where they were circumvented by special procedures."

(Jeffrey Sachs, "The end of poverty, economic possibilities for our time", chapter "The voiceless dying: Africa and disease")

What I like is that patent holders agreed to cut their prices in low-income countries (although it may be simply by economic reasoning: lower prices for people with lower incomes means more clients, hence maybe more benefits than from higher prices but fewer clients). It reminds me of a story I read in "80 hommes pour changer le monde" by Sylvain Darnil and Mathieu Le Roux, where an Indian ophtalmologist, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, founded an hospital where the poor could be treated for free, while the rich had to pay the regular price, in exchange for more comfort (e.g. a private room), but the quality of treatments was the same for everybody. His hospital was economically viable and did not rely on donations nor subventions. And they did not ask the patients to prove if they were poor. Excellent, no ?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Analytical deliberation

"The commission* gave me a wonderful opportunity to test my favorite hypothesis about collective rationality, which is that if you put people of strongly opposing views in a room together, and infuse their discussion with data, background studies, and unhurried time for debate, it is possible to bridge seemingly irreconcilable positions among the members of the group. I have come to call this process analytical deliberation. It works."

(Jeffrey Sachs, "The end of poverty, economic possibilities for our time", chapter "The voiceless dying: Africa and disease")

* World Health Organisation Commission on Macroeconomics and Health.

François, this is not exactly your favorite hypothesis about collective wisdom, but it is close to it !

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Africa's crisis

After hearing the stupid words French President Nicolas Sarkozy said about Africans this summer, and the clichés some friends used to excuse him, I am glad to read a very lucid analysis of the situation by Jeffrey Sachs ("The end of poverty, economic possibilities for our time", chapter "The voiceless dying: Africa and disease"):

"The outside world has pat answers concerning Africa's prolonged crisis. Everything comes back, again and again, to corruption and misrule. Western officials, including the countless «missions» of the IMF* and World Bank to African countries, argue that Africa simply needs to behave itself better, to allow market forces to operate without interference by corrupt rulers.
When it comes to charges of bad governance, the West should be a bit more circumspect. Little surpasses the western world in the cruelty and depredations that it has long imposed on Africa. Three centuries of slave trade, from around 1500 to the early 1800s, were followed by a century of brutal colonial rule.
Far from lifting Africa economically, the colonial era left Africa bereft of educated citizens and leaders, basic infrastructure, and public health facilities. The borders of the newly independent states followed the arbitrary lines of the former empires, dividing ethnic groups, ecosystems, watersheds, and resource deposits in arbitrary ways.
As soon as the colonial period ended, Africa became a pawn in the cold war. Western cold warriors, and the operatives in the CIA and counterpart agencies in Europe, opposed African leaders who preached nationalism, sought aid from the Soviet Union, or demanded better terms on Western investments in African minerals and energy deposits. In 1960, as a demonstration of Western approaches to African independence, CIA and Belgian operatives assassinated the charismatic first prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, and installed the tyrant Mobutu Sese Seko in his stead. In the 1980s, the United States supported Jonas Savimbi in his violent insurrection against the government of Angola, on the grounds that Savimbi was an anticommunist, when in fact he was a violent and corrupt thug. The United States long backed the South African apartheid regime, and gave tacit support as that regime armed the violent Renamo insurrectionists in neighboring Mozambique. The CIA had its hand in the violent overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in 1966. Indeed, almost every African political crisis - Sudan, Somalia, and a host of others - has a long history of Western meddling among its many causes.
Both the critics of African governance and the critics of Western violence and meddling have it wrong. Politics, at the end of the day, simply cannot explain Africa's prolonged economic crisis. The claim that Africa's corruption is the basic source of the problem does not withstand practical experience or serious scrutiny. During the past decade I witnessed close at hand how relatively well-governed countries in Africa, such as Ghana, Malawi, Mali, and Senegal, failed to prosper, whereas societies in Asia perceived to have extensive corruption, such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan, enjoyed rapid economic growth.
At the same time, Africa's harsh colonial legacy and the West's very real depradations in the postcolonial period also do not explain the long-term development crisis. Other regions of the world that are now growing rapidly also experienced severe damage from decades or centuries of colonial rule and postcolonial meddling. Vietnam is a case in point, a country that had to fight for independence for decades and yet emerged from that brutal experience to achieve very rapid economic growth.
To understand - and overcome - such crises, it would be necessary to unravel the interconnections between extreme poverty, rampant disease, unstable and harsh climate conditions, high transport costs, chronic hunger, and inadequate food production.
The combination of Africa's adverse geography and its extreme poverty creates the worst poverty trap in the world. Yet the situation in Africa is not hopeless. Far from it. Just as my malaria-expert colleagues taught me about bed nets, indoor spraying, and effective antimalarial medicines, and just as my HIV/AIDS-knowledgeable colleagues taught me what can be accomplished through effective prevention programs linked to access to anti-AIDS drugs, so my colleagues in tropical agriculture, rural electrification, road building, and safe water and sanitation began to teach me what could be done in these other areas of vital concern.
Africa's problems, I have come to understand, are especially difficult but still solvable with practical and proven technologies. Diseases can be controlled, crop yields can be sharply increased, and basic infrastructure such as paved roads and electricity can be extended to the villages. A combination of investments well attuned to local needs and conditions can enable African economies to break out of the poverty trap. These interventions need to be applied systematically, diligently, and jointly, since they strongly reinforce one another. With focused attention by African countries and the international community, Africa could soon have its own Green Revolution**, and achieve a takeoff in rural-led growth, thereby sparing the coming generation of Africans the continued miseries of drought-induced famine."

*International Monetary Fund
**Allusion to Asia's rural-led economic growth in the 1970s through the introduction of high-yield crops.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Killing a bad myth

"Some recent historical accounts, most notably Empire, by historian Niall Ferguson, praise the British Empire's spread of technology and knowledge to India and other colonies. These are misleading accounts in my view, for although empire did extend infrastructure and technology, it did so to Britain's advantage. Without empire, the same technologies could have diffused in many other ways: trade in capital goods, imitation and reverse engineering, the purchase of technical advice (always available at a price), and the spread of scientific knowledge through textbooks, global conferences, student exchanges, and scientific academies. Japan, for example, did not fall prey to empire to achieve the technological benefits of the industrial age. By keeping its sovereignty, Japan enjoyed an even quicker ascent into industrialization than did the colonies. Indeed, as Maddison notes, «Indian industrial efficiency was hampered by the British administration's neglect of technical education, and the reluctance of British firms and managing agencies to provide training or managerial experience to Indians.»"

(Jeffrey Sachs, "The end of poverty, economic possibilities for our time", chapter "India's market reforms")

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Famines, climate and politics

"Famines have as much or more to do with authoritarian politics as they do with climate fluctuations and crop yields"

Amartya Sen, cited by Jeffrey Sachs in "The end of poverty, economic possibilities for our time", chapter "India's market reforms", who then adds:

"Sen's insight is sometimes carried too far, however, with the claim that democracies never have famines. In the extreme climatic and demographic conditions of Africa, where highly vulnerable populations rely on rain-fed agriculture in arid regions, droughts can cause famines even in democracies."

This will be more and more the case with the consequences of global warming !

Thursday, September 13, 2007

La Vérité

"Il suffit, pour la Vérité, d'apparaître une seule fois dans un seul esprit, pour que rien ne puisse jamais plus l'empêcher de tout envahir et de tout enflammer."

(Teilhard de Chardin, cité par Édith de la Héronnière dans "Teilhard de Chardin, une mystique de la traversée", chapitre "Bien finir")

De l'évolution du monde

«Le monde ne tient, ne peut avancer, et ne peut se consommer, que sous l'action d'une puissance qui soit de l'espèce d'un "amour". Voilà pourquoi, autant je sympathise avec la foi "totalitaire" des fronts populaires, autant je me rends à l'évidence que leurs formes impersonnelles d'idéal ("l'Humanité, la Société", a fortiori la Race ou l'Empire des fascismes !), sans âme ni "figure", vont à tuer le bourgeon même de l'Évolution qu'ils veulent promouvoir et sauver.»

(Teilhard de Chardin, cité par Édith de la Héronnière dans "Teilhard de Chardin, une mystique de la traversée", chapitre "L'Énergie humaine")

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Croire n'est pas voir

"«Croire n'est pas voir, dit Teilhard. Autant que personne, j'imagine, je marche parmi les ombres de la foi.»
Et il ajoute:
«Les ombres de la foi... Pour justifier cette vérité si étrangement incompatible avec le soleil divin, les docteurs nous expliquent que le Seigneur, volontairement, se cache, afin d'éprouver notre amour. Il faut être incurablement perdu dans les jeux de l'esprit, il faut n'avoir jamais rencontré en soi et chez les autres la souffrance du doute, pour ne pas sentir ce que cette solution a de haïssable. [...]
Non, Dieu ne se cache pas, j'en suis sûr, pour que nous le cherchions - pas plus qu'il ne nous laisse souffrir pour augmenter nos mérites. Bien au contraire, penché sur la Création qui monte à lui, il travaille de toutes ses forces à la béatifier et à l'illuminer. Comme une mère, il épie son nouveau-né. Mais mes yeux ne sauraient encore le percevoir. Ne faut-il pas justement toute la durée des siècles pour que notre regard s'ouvre à la lumière ?
Nos doutes, comme nos maux, sont le prix et la condition même d'un achèvement universel. J'accepte, dans ces conditions, de marcher jusqu'au bout sur une route dont je suis de plus en plus certain, vers des horizons de plus en plus noyés dans la brume.
Voilà comment je crois.»

(Teilhard de Chardin, cité par Édith de la Héronnière dans "Teilhard de Chardin, une mystique de la traversée", chapitre "Le Tournant")

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

De l'immortalité

"Depuis toujours a subsisté en lui le goût de l'Inaltérable, seul susceptible de mouvoir l'homme et preuve, par cet attrait même, qu'«il y a de l'immortel en avant de nous».
«Pour mettre en branle la chose, si petite en apparence, qu'est une activité humaine, il ne faut rien moins que l'attrait d'un résultat indestructible. Nous ne marchons que sur l'espoir d'une conquête immortelle.»
Considération métaphysique dont les fondements sont avant tout psychologiques puisque la perspective d'une mort totale interromprait immédiatement tout effort et tout travail de l'homme dans le monde. Mais quel est cet Immortel, sinon «le meilleur de nous-mêmes»: «Ce que je parviens à faire d'incommunicable, d'unique, au fond de moi-même. Ma personnalité, c'est-à-dire le centre particulier de perception et d'amour que ma vie consiste à développer, voilà mon vrai trésor.»
Loin de se perdre dans l'union au Tout, ce que nous avons de plus personnel nous fait entrer dans l'Universel.
Une vérité si constamment vérifiée dans la création artistique."

(Édith de la Héronnière, "Teilhard de Chardin, une mystique de la traversée", chapitre "Le Tournant")

Monday, September 3, 2007

S'aimer humblement soi-même

"Il est plus facile que l'on croit de se haïr. La grâce est de s'oublier. Mais si tout orgueil était mort en nous, la grâce des grâces serait de s'aimer humblement soi-même"

(Bernanos, "Journal d'un curé de campagne", cité par Édith de la Héronnière dans "Teilhard de Chardin, une mystique de la traversée", chapitre "Le Tournant")

Pour l'instant je n'en suis qu'au premier stade...

Citation du jour

enfin de l'autre jour, chez Davy et Fréd:

"Quand j'ai fait mon stage ouvrier chez Morgan-Stanley, une banque d'affaire, [...]"

(Davy Marchand-Maillet, fin stratège)